Gymnasts take pride in victory

Illinois gymnast Tyler Yamauchi performs on the rings during the meet against Iowa at Huff Hall, Saturday, March 3, 2007. Yamauchi tied for first on the rings with a score of 9.6, took first on the parallel bars and second on the vault. ME Online

Adam Babcock

Illinois gymnast Tyler Yamauchi performs on the rings during the meet against Iowa at Huff Hall, Saturday, March 3, 2007. Yamauchi tied for first on the rings with a score of 9.6, took first on the parallel bars and second on the vault. ME Online

By Jeff LaBelle

The Illinois men’s gymnasts didn’t need words. Their smiles said it all.

Full-faced grins flowed from Illinois’ end of Huff Hall on Saturday following its 214.950 – 209.500 win over Iowa.

It was a season-high score that set the stage for the team’s first dual win of the season. More importantly, though, it’s the high-energy atmosphere and the number of fist pumps in the three-hour meet that says the Illini are not wearing down. They’re just getting started.

“You know, we’re finally realizing, ‘Hey, we can do this,'” junior captain Michael Boyer said. “We’re a team that has national potential and I think at the beginning of the year there was some doubt about that. Finally, we’re having routines click.”

Tyler Yamauchi led the Illini effort, while freshmen Chad Wiest and Luke Stannard helped the Illini to the win. Boyer, along with teammate Chris Silcox, started the team’s emotional fire and both were instrumental in sideline high-fives and celebration.

Head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said Saturday’s win is a testament to his team’s hard work in practice. Still, he said, his team can do better.

“We got a season high, and you still look around and say, ‘We can do better,'” Hayasaki said. “We still made some mistakes here and there, but they’re not as large as they used to be. That’s the difference. When we do that, we can get 214, 215 points. And when we talk about 215 or better, we’re talking about being really competitive. We’re gradually moving in the right direction.”

Wes Haagensen, who’s new nickname “Snakeman” garnered hisses from his teammates throughout the night, only competed in four events and was not in the running to be the top all-around performer. Yamauchi, though, stepped up in his absence. In five events, Yamauchi posted two season highs, and had impressive scores on rings (9.600), parallel bars (9.300), and vault (9.050).

“Yamauchi’s really coming along,” Hayasaki said. “He’s got some big skills and he’s really starting to pick it up now. That’s a big plus for our team.”

Hayasaki pointed to Yamauchi’s performance as an indication that the team’s veterans are starting to step up their games.

Chris Silcox, a little disappointed in his day, said he hopes he can add to that veteran leadership down the stretch.

“I feel frustrated, kind of,” he said. “I got through some stuff today and had some scores count, but they’re not quite where they should be. I’m really happy about our team, but I know I could have helped us to get into the 216s. It’s inspired me to work a little harder.”

Following Chad Wiest’s floor exercise, Boyer, with palms held high, flashed a “ten” with his fingers and smiled in a moment that captured the Illini’s spirit and intensity. Although Wiest’s routine got a 9.450, slightly less than his teammate’s prediction, it was a fire starter for the following events.

“He got gypped,” Boyer said. “That was a perfect routine.”

The team’s intensity spilled into its pommel horse event, where they set a new season high (34.250) and continued to roll as they out-scored Iowa on every apparatus.

Freshman Luke Stannard posted the team’s high score on the pommel (8.950) and stuck his high bar dismount only one week after being cleared to attempt it.

“Yea, that’s actually the first time I’ve done that dismount this year,” said Stannard, who missed the early part of the season with a knee injury. “I was having a hard time with it in practice, but it all came together when I was on the bar. When I stuck that landing, it was a great feeling.”